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Stay healthy while traveling when you can’t drink the water

By Karen Mancl, Professor Food, Agricultural & Biological Engineering

It is a shame to get sick on vacation. Camping and hiking spots in remote areas may have unsanitary water supplies. Most importantly traveling outside the United States poses a risk to travelers, since water treatment is not as reliable in other countries. What can you do to protect yourself and your family from getting sick?

Boil water before drinking is the standard recommendation. Boiling water for just a minute is extremely effective at killing bacteria and parasites that can make people sick. When is doubt – drink boiled water! Any heat source – electric or gas range, camp stove, wood fire and even a microwave oven – heats water to boiling temperatures and kills disease-causing microbes.

What if you can’t boil the water? If boiling water might not be feasible. Other disinfection options are available.

Disinfection tablets containing chlorine or iodine are available for campers and travelers to disinfect a small volume of water. Many different companies market disinfection tablets that can be easily added to water bottles. Always follow the directions on the package. Remember adding chemicals will change the taste of the water.

Sunlight is an amazing disinfectant and is the key to solar disinfection (SODIS). The ultraviolet light in sunlight kills pathogens on contact. To use sunlight to disinfect water, the water must be very clear and placed in the sun in clear containers. Clear plastic water bottles and plastic bags can be used for solar disinfection. The water should be exposed to sunlight for at least 4 and up to 10 hours to kill microbes.

So remember to be safe, boil water for 1 minute before drinking. If boiling is not possible, adding disinfection tablets works to clean water. However, adding chemicals to water changes its taste and while safe, may not be palatable. Disinfecting batches of water in the sun is a low energy, non-chemical solution when traveling or camping.

To find out more about water testing and disinfection check the website for the Ohio State University Soil Environment Technology Learning Lab at setll.osu.edu.


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